The Baby Boomer's 'gray divorce'

If you can get over the rather negative connotation - "gray divorce" - you realize it's a useful term, at least in reference to the unique issues people confront when facing divorce at an older age.

Simply put, older people don't have the same range of concerns in divorce as younger people do.

Young couples may not have much in the way of assets (like fully vested retirement accounts or vacation homes). But those who have been in the workforce for years or decades likely have significant property and financial assets at stake, which means significant property division issues to resolve. On the other hand, older couples whose children have flown the coop don't need to worry about child custody and parenting plans.

Growing trend of 'gray divorce' in recent years

The media has put a spotlight on this demographic phenomenon, but you won't find a singular definition or characterization. Loosely speaking, gray divorce refers to couples over 50 who have decided to part ways, often after decades of marriage. Even Wikipedia has an entry on gray divorce, which it describes as "the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older ('grey-haired') couples in long-lasting marriages."

Why are older people getting divorced at high rates?

The answer is variously attributed to a number of factors, including:

  • Increased lifespan - people generally live longer than in the past
  • Financial independence - in general, a spouse in a two-career household is not dependent on the other for income
  • Baby Boomers - this generation has reached retirement or near-retirement age

The Pew Research Center argues that Baby Boomers' marital instability early in life - first marriages that ended in divorce - has led to marital instability later in life: "The divorce rate for adults ages 50 and older in remarriages is double the rate of those who have only been married once."

But let's be clear that Baby Boomers aren't alone in the divorce department, despite the gray divorce trend. Invariably, roughly 50 percent of couples face divorce at some point in their lives. What is clear about gray divorce is that it doesn't necessarily mean the end of meaningful relationships at an older age.

Per the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate among Baby Boomers may be climbing, but so is the rate of cohabitation (which, ahem, sometimes creates its own family law problems).

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